National Postal Museum logo
Top Image
Pilot StoriesHistoric PlanesAirmail Creates an IndustryObject ShowcaseHistory TimelineActivity ZoneFlight School
The Army Pilots
No Old, Bold, Pilots
>> The First Four
>> They Died Flying the Mail
>> Rest of the Best
Tales from 5000 ft.
Contract Pilots
Mail by Female
Pilot's Gear

PILOT STORIES: Thompson, Harwell C.

Air Mail Service Began: September 10, 1920
Air Mail Service Ended: September 7, 1923
Assignments: College Park, Maryland
  October 16, 1920 – Cleveland
  February 16, 1921 - Chicago

Harwell C. Thompson was in his third year as an airmail pilot when, on September 7, 1923, he left Cleveland, Ohio in a de Havilland airplane at 8:07 a.m. for Chicago. At about 9:30 a.m., a farmer near Coltin, Ohio, saw Thompson heading west at a low altitude and heard the engine making very loud noises. The airplane began a wide turn around a farmhouse, gliding down with engine throttle back, about to land when some cattle shifted into its path. As the farmer described it, "The engine exploded to life, then went silent. The airplane dropped like a rock, nose first, left wing low, and hit the ground at a 120º angle." Thompson's seat belt broke loose at its fitting, and he was thrown into the inner-bay stagger wires of the left wing.

When the engine was inspected, mechanics saw teeth missing from each of the drive gears. Thompson's attempt to apply power to clear the cattle had stripped six teeth from generator gear, stopping the engine cold.

Harwell Thompson  
Click on the photos to view a larger image.

(top left) Thompson
View Our Collection
Postal Museum | Smithsonian | Privacy | Terms of Use | Site MapBottom Navigation
Top of page link to homepage